By A. G. Hopkins
Past and Present, Vol. 36:1 (1967)
Introduction: Professor M. Malowist has made a bold attempt to interpret the causes of economic backwardness in the empires of Mali and Songhai, drawing on comparisons with eastern Europe in order to contribute not only to our knowledge of west African economic history, but also to the wider problem of economic incentives in pre-industrial societies. Because of its general interest, it is likely that his article will be quoted by scholars who are concerned with the problem of underdevelopment in its historical perspectives, but who do not possess any detailed knowledge of the period and area in question. It is for this reason that the present article has been written. It will be suggested here that Professor Malowist’s main argument suffers from weaknesses, both of data and method, which together make his general thesis untenable.